Home Blog

Why Can’t I Focus? Find Out Reasons and Ways to Cope With “Brain Fog”

Difficulty concentrating
Written by:

Wafaa Amjad Dar


Dr. Bradley Noon




  • Chronic stress and sleep problems can lead to mental clutter and reduced attention span.
  • Trouble focusing can happen to anyone but it requires attention if it’s severe or persists for a long time.
  • ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders often lead to difficulties with focus.
  • Excessive device use and multitasking can split focus and hinder productivity.

Do you have trouble focusing on one thing at a time? Or do you find tasks more challenging and time-consuming than they used to be?

You’re not alone in facing these struggles. A recent research showed that 49% of respondents claim that their attention span has become shorter. Read on to learn potential reasons behind difficulty concentrating and how to overcome it using practical solutions.

Your mental health matters. Our medical team is here to assess your symptoms and help you overcome them.

What Is Focus and How Does It Work?

Focus is the brain’s ability to filter out irrelevant information and ignore distractions. It is based on complex neurological mechanisms, allowing you to concentrate your mental resources on one specific thing.

The main brain area involved in this process is the prefrontal cortex. It handles sustaining attention, decision-making, and correct functioning of working memory. Also, neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine [1*] affect alertness and focus, improving working memory, attention, and learning capabilities.

Is It Normal to Have Trouble Focusing?

Struggling to focus from time to time is normal, be it at work, during study sessions, or when engaging in leisure activities like reading. It can happen because of occasional fatigue after hard work, emphasizing the need for breaks and rest.

A lack of focus should become a concern if it’s prolonged or severe, leads to anxiety and frustration, or hinders any aspects of daily life. In this case, it can indicate heightened stress or health issues, which require attention.

Signs of Concentration Problems

If you’ve been struggling to stay focused for a long time and have the following symptoms, consider seeing a healthcare specialist:

  • Inability to perform routine daily tasks.
  • Restlessness.
  • Mental cloudiness or “brain fog.”
  • Difficulty remembering things that happened a short time ago.
  • Missing important meetings, deadlines, or appointments.
  • Difficulty making decisions.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Losing things frequently or problems with remembering where things are.
  • Making careless mistakes.
  • Inability to finish tasks within set timeframes.
  • Putting off tasks until the last minute.
  • Increased distractibility.
  • Poor working memory, which results in difficulty remembering and using information effectively.
  • Difficulty following instructions.
  • Spacing out during tasks or conversations.

What Does Brain Fog Feel Like?

Brain fog is a term used to describe the sensation of feeling mentally sluggish and fuzzy. It isn’t a mental health condition but rather a subjective symptom of different health conditions.

Trouble concentrating is only one element of brain fog. A person might also feel less mentally sharp and clear than usual, have reduced alertness, and experience confusion and forgetfulness. Thoughts and emotions may feel numb, and simple everyday activities may seem to require significantly more effort. A foggy haze blurs cognitive processes, making it hard to stay focused or engage in critical thinking.

What Causes a Lack of Focus?

Each case of trouble focusing is individual, including various internal and external factors. These can be physical or mental health illnesses, side effects of some medication, lifestyle habits, or normal consequences of occasional stress. Let’s review the most common causes below.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neuropsychiatric disease characterized by increased inattention, impulsivity, and restlessness. It can manifest itself in different forms, from difficulty focusing to hyperactivity. People with ADHD usually have higher distractibility and struggle with completing tasks.

One symptom of ADHD that might affect concentration positively is hyper-focus, but it also has flaws. The foundation for hyper-focus is a deep interest in the activity, so a person may pay attention to hobbies while still avoiding important but less interesting tasks.

While it’s possible to accept the symptoms and even adapt them to your lifestyle, ADHD is a disorder and requires treatment to reduce negative effects on cognition and overall well-being.

See a licensed medical professional specializing in ADHD and receive a personalized treatment plan.


Difficulty concentrating is among the common symptoms of depression. This mental health condition can drain your mental energy and impair your cognitive function, including effects on attention and memory [2*] . It can be difficult for people with major depressive disorder to pay and sustain attention because of ruminations [3*] (repetitive thoughts) and excessive worrying, among other factors.

Depression should never be faced in silence because in severe cases, it can cause suicidal thoughts or attempts. If you feel sadness and emptiness for more than two weeks, or experience fatigue and a loss of interest in previously joyful activities, seek support and professional help from a mental health specialist.

Anxiety Disorders

Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety have different symptoms but also a few similar effects. For example, they make you spend excessive mental resources on worrying and intrusive thoughts, usually unpleasant. Ultimately, this can significantly influence the quality of focus and the results you can achieve.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD often arises from past traumatic experiences. Individuals with this mental health disorder may frequently experience intrusive and distressing thoughts related to the traumatic event. These intrusive thoughts can cause difficulty concentrating and maintaining focus on everyday tasks and responsibilities.


Chronic or acute stress reactions can overload the mind with what can be described as ‘mental clutter.’ The overwhelming nature of high stress levels [4*] can trigger racing thoughts, creating a constant mental distraction and making it difficult to concentrate on the present moment.

Sleep Problems

Healthy sleep helps both your body and your mind rest and recharge. Sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea can lead to sleep deprivation, resulting in daytime fatigue and a lack of focus. When you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, it can be seriously detrimental to different functions and processes, including cognitive [5*] ones. 

These effects of sleep problems occur in people of different ages and occupations. In students, sleep deprivation leads to poor academic performance [6*] . In shift-working nurses, it can reduce vigilance [7*] , cause memory problems, and affect some other cognitive functions.

Trouble sleeping can result in mental fatigue because your brain doesn’t have the opportunity to prepare for the day’s demands. That is why you get distracted and consciously or subconsciously aim to reduce the workload even in the middle of important tasks, simply willing to recover.

Note that even sufficient but low-quality sleep can lead to concentration problems.

Unhealthy Diet

Providing the appropriate fuel for your body and brain is essential for their proper functioning. This is similar to how using the wrong fuel in a machine can lead to problems. A balanced diet helps improve overall health, including a positive influence on concentration and attention span.

Enjoying occasional treats is normal, but excessive consumption of sugar [8*] and processed foods can result in energy fluctuations. This, in turn, can cause trouble focusing. Insufficient intake of some vital nutrients can also play a role. For example, a lack of vitamin B12 and iron can lead to fatigue, cognitive difficulties [9*] like impaired decision-making, and slower reaction times.

Insufficient hydration is another reason for poor attention [10*] and memory problems. Rehydration can improve both cognitive functioning and mood, so it’s important to drink enough water throughout the day to avoid difficulty concentrating.

Physical Health Conditions

Different physical health conditions can substantially cause impaired cognitive function, including trouble focusing. These involve chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines [11*] , fibromyalgia [12*] , diabetes [13*] , and rheumatoid arthritis. They can have direct or indirect impacts on cognitive performance and require ongoing medical support and treatment.

Hormonal Imbalances

Underlying hormonal imbalances can also lead to trouble concentrating. For example, dysfunction of the adrenal gland can alter your energy levels and ability to concentrate. Thyroid issues, whether it’s a hyperactive or underactive thyroid gland [14*] , can similarly affect your concentration. Additionally, hormonal changes during menopause [15*] can lead to concentration problems and other changes in cognition.

Medication Side Effects

Certain medications, such as sedatives, antihistamines, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medicines, have the potential for side effects that can impact focus [16*] and concentration. These side effects often include drowsiness and mental sluggishness, which can affect cognitive performance and lead to trouble focusing.

It’s important to note that the severity and nature of these side effects can vary widely depending on the specific medication and individual reactions.


As people get older, their thinking abilities can slowly decline [17*] . These may include difficulties with problem-solving, focus, and memory. Older adults might find it easier to get distracted by things around them or their own thoughts. In addition, some age-related medical conditions can cause poor concentration. For example, dementia or hearing loss [18*] .

A healthy lifestyle and monitoring of mental and physical health can decrease the effects of aging on focus and other cognitive processes. Mental stimulation, physical activity, and timely treatment of depression and sleep issues can help normal brain functioning.

Substance Abuse

Misusing drugs or alcohol can have significant negative effects on cognitive abilities, including attention. People who misuse these substances might feel unclear in their minds and have trouble staying focused on things that need long-term attention.

Overusing Devices

Research on the link between cognitive issues and the use of smartphones or other devices is still limited and contradictory. But, there are some findings showing that smartphones can affect memory [19*] and some cognitive processes. This happens because of constant distractions that split focus and dependence on instant gratification.

It might be helpful to control your screen time or distance yourself from your smartphone when you have something urgent that needs your full attention.


Multitasking is sometimes a necessity, but trying to focus on multiple activities simultaneously can sabotage your productivity. Problems staying focused is the sign that your multitasking is making things worse rather than working for you.

In addition, multitasking can leave you stressed. This, in turn, makes your brain send a signal to release adrenaline, and too much of it can make it tough to focus and perform well.


Procrastination is the habit of postponing tasks or putting them off until the last minute. This can have several negative consequences on your mental well-being and your ability to focus and concentrate. When you procrastinate, approaching deadlines often brings increased stress and anxiety, which can lead to concentration problems.

When you procrastinate, instead of being fully present in the moment, your mind becomes preoccupied with worries about the work you’ve delayed. As a result, these worries can lead to trouble concentrating, starting the cycle of poor productivity.

Lack of Routine

When your daily routine lacks a clear plan or schedule, it can be difficult to effectively prioritize tasks and manage your time. You might find yourself constantly switching between activities and having trouble focusing on one thing. The absence of structure can create a sense of chaos and unpredictability, ultimately making you have reduced focus and concentration.

Decreased Energy

The levels of physical, mental, or emotional energy are closely linked to our ability to maintain focus. When you have enough energy and can manage it effectively, it becomes easier to concentrate on tasks and stay fully engaged. Conversely, without energy, your brain experiences mental sluggishness and can’t focus.

Mental energy, including cognitive capacity and alertness for lasting focus, can diminish as you handle tasks and make decisions during the day. As a result, you have a hard time concentrating on complex or demanding tasks when your energy levels decrease. Monitoring and managing your brain’s energy is crucial, as well as not wasting it on unimportant tasks, but managing it wisely.

Messy Surroundings

A messy environment can make you feel overwhelmed and out of control, which can make you unable to concentrate. Clutter can create mental and visual distractions. The sight of disorganization triggers thoughts about cleaning and organizing, which can intrude on your ability to focus and hinder productivity.

Frequently Leaving Problems Unresolved

Unresolved disputes and arguments are some of the greatest concentration killers. Perhaps you argued with your partner last night, and it has bothered you all morning. Your annoyance and anger may be justified, but unresolved problems linger in the background of your mind, continually drawing attention away from the task at hand and making it difficult to concentrate.

These worries can lead to emotional distress and be mentally taxing. It requires mental resources to analyze, plan, and execute solutions. When these resources are drained by unresolved problems, it leaves less mental capacity for other tasks, further hindering focus and productivity.

Another reason for poor concentration is a lack of decisiveness that prevents you from completing important tasks. This can happen if you doubt your decision-making ability, tend to overthink, or you are afraid to do things because you’re scared of failing or being rejected. All this can make you frequently revise your decisions, worry, and remain unproductive. A lot of unfinished tasks might also reduce your motivation and self-esteem.


Boredom is linked to lower concentration levels. When you find a task boring, your brain perceives it as unchallenging, leading your mind to drift away, resulting in reduced engagement and focus. It becomes easy for you to shift your focus to even the slightest distraction. 

Bored individuals may also skim over information, make errors, and struggle to retain details, all of which are signs of difficulty concentrating. Moreover, it leads to fatigue and a lack of motivation, ultimately resulting in hours spent scrolling through your social media feed and a loss of concentration.

Proneness to boredom is also linked to anxiety and depression [20*] , so it can be a symptom of a mental health condition. It’s important to consider psychological counseling or see a psychotherapist if boredom is prolonged and is accompanied by excessive worrying, unexplained fatigue, or anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure).


Everyone gets caught up in daydreams from time to time. Because those memories are more pleasant than the task you are dealing with at the time, your mind wanders to the future or the past, and you can’t concentrate.

Daydreams and vivid memories are strong distractions that can make you less aware of your surroundings and current responsibilities. This makes it difficult to concentrate on priorities and leads to careless mistakes.

Racing Thoughts

When you experience racing thoughts, your mind jumps from one idea to another. They can cause trouble focusing because, during one thought, you suddenly remember five other things you need to do or consider when you get busy. The topics of racing thoughts can have nothing to do with one another or may be related somehow. If racing thoughts run in a loop, they can also cause anxiety.

Racing thoughts can be a symptom of a mental health condition. Go through a mental health assessment and receive treatment online.

How Can You Improve Focus? Tips and Strategies

We’ve reviewed several reasons why difficulty concentrating and maintaining focus can occur. The good news is that there are numerous ways to improve it. Explore practical tips and strategies that can empower you with enhanced concentration and heightened focus, ultimately leading to greater mental clarity and increased daily efficiency:

  • Pomodoro Technique: The Pomodoro technique is a popular and effective method for helping you focus and manage your time. You divide your work time into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks to regain focus. Also, you take a more extended break of about 15 to 20 minutes after about four pomodoros.
    The technique works by instilling a sense of urgency through a timer. Rather than feeling like you have an endless amount of time in the workday to get things done and then wasting those valuable work hours on distractions, you know you only have 25 minutes to make as much progress on a task as possible. On the other hand, you know you’ll have a well-deserved rest after 25 minutes instead of feeling like you’ll have to work for hours without breaks. 
  • Minimize Distractions: An organized, quiet workspace with minimal distractions, such as noise and clutter, significantly improves work efficiency. Distractions damage your productivity and can cause you to have issues focusing. Some easy ways to minimize distractions include turning off or silencing distracting devices, moving to a quieter place, informing people around you of your need to focus, requesting minimal conversation unless urgent, and shutting the door to your room or workspace to create a physical barrier against interruptions.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques involve meditation, deep breathing, and exercises for heightened awareness of the present moment. When practiced regularly, they can enhance productivity and mental clarity. It can significantly enhance focus and attention by reducing stress, anxiety, mental clutter, and distractibility. Mindfulness [21*] also improves cognitive functions such as working memory and decision-making, while increasing self-awareness to recognize when focus wanes. It creates a calmer mental environment valuable to sustained attention and heightened focus.
  • Restrict Social Media: Constant access to social media and fast-paced technology exposes our brains to high volumes of brain stimulation. In addition, this easy access to social media on multiple devices encourages multitasking, which leads to trouble focusing entirely on one task at a time. You can limit the use of digital media by monitoring your screen time, setting specific times for checking social media, making your bedroom a stimulus-free zone, improving the skill of delayed gratification, and relaxing your mind.
  • Good Night’s Sleep: Even the most effective techniques for improving focus may not be enough if you struggle with sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep can decrease your mental energy and affect your ability to focus. When you’re busy, it’s tempting to work late, and in some cases, it’s necessary. Remember to not make sleepless nights your habit and balance them with quality rest. The later you work and the less sleep you get, the longer it will take you to complete the next tasks because your ability to focus will deteriorate. Good sleep improves sustained attention, vigilance, and alertness during the day.
  • Have a Healthy Diet: Food is the fuel that regulates your energy and mood, both of which can significantly improve focus. A healthy diet has the incredible ability to affect your mental clarity, mood, memory, and ability to focus, so one of the first places you should start is with what you eat. Some of the best brain foods [22*] include kale, spinach, broccoli, salmon and other fatty fish, berries, walnuts, tea and coffee, in moderation. 
  • Make To-do Lists: One of the most important reasons to use a to-do list is to help you stay organized. When you write down all of your tasks, they become more specific and manageable. In addition, it’s easier to stay focused when you have a clear outline of the tasks you need to complete and those you’ve already completed.
    After making your list, prioritize it by putting two or three critical ones at the top. Then, in order of importance, rank the remaining items. This enables you to take on urgent tasks when your mind is clear, and your energy levels are high. Also break larger tasks into smaller, manageable ones to significantly improve your ability to complete them efficiently.
  • Exercise Regularly: According to research [23*] , regular exercise benefits both your body and brain health. Studies [24*] show that exercise can improve your focus for up to two to three hours by increasing blood flow to the brain. Moreover, it has a positive impact on mood, sleep quality, and stress reduction, all of which play a pivotal role in cognitive function. Long-term, consistent exercise has even been shown to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and slow the brain’s aging process. Experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week, to begin reaping the benefits of exercise.
  • Reward Yourself: An incentive to stay motivated regardless of temptation gives you a positive mindset when trying to stay focused. This is because you know you’ll not only finish the task, but you’ll also get your reward. Balance the size of the reward with the difficulty and size of the task. For example, consider a challenging task that will take you 2 hours to finish. You could give yourself the reward of switching off work entirely for 20 minutes or having a slice of cake.
  • Seek Professional Advice: If you are persistently having problems focusing that disrupt your daily life, it is essential to talk to a healthcare provider. Doctors and psychologists can perform a thorough evaluation to pinpoint the root cause of your focus difficulties. They’ll create a treatment plan, which may involve behavioral therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes. For instance, individuals with ADHD-related focus problems might receive prescription medications to help them focus.

Summing Up

There is a psychological phenomenon called the Zeigarnik effect [25*] that describes the tendency to remember interrupted tasks better than completed ones. Incomplete events are more difficult to forget or dismiss, keeping your mind tense and promoting anxiety.

Poor concentration is treatable, and the first important step is identifying the root causes. They can stem from lifestyle choices and psychological factors to underlying medical causes. It’s important to understand that enhancing focus is an ongoing journey that demands both patience and consistency. It’s perfectly normal not to succeed immediately. The key is to begin, no matter how small your initial steps may be. With unwavering dedication and the right tools, you can attain a focused and attentive mind, enabling you to thrive in both your personal and professional pursuits.

Frequently Asked Questions

A short attention span can be a symptom of various conditions. For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by difficulty paying attention and high distractibility. Anxiety disorders, depression, and learning disabilities can also affect cognitive function, including attention. Additionally, sleep deprivation can lead to difficulty concentrating and a shortened attention span.

Having trouble focusing as a standalone symptom does not automatically indicate the presence of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Although difficulty concentrating is a prevalent symptom, it’s important to understand that ADHD is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that involves a combination of signs and diagnostic criteria.

If you notice that in addition to a constant struggle with maintaining focus, you have other symptoms of ADHD, it is highly advisable to seek the guidance of a mental health professional for a thorough evaluation.

To cope with difficulty concentrating, create a conducive environment by minimizing distractions. Also, set clear goals and prioritize tasks to manage your time effectively. From the health aspect, maintain a balanced diet, stay hydrated, and ensure you get enough quality sleep. Other tips for boosting focus include regular exercise, mindfulness techniques, limiting digital distractions, staying organized, and being patient with your progress. If concentration problems persist, seek professional help to address any underlying issues.
A lack of concentration itself is not a mental illness, but it can be a symptom of various mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, and others. While it’s essential to address concentration issues, this is typically considered as part of a broader mental health treatment. If concentration problems persist, seeking guidance from a mental health specialist is important to identify underlying causes and develop a tailored treatment plan.
Yes, stress may cause trouble concentrating and remembering. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones that can cause cognitive impairment, making it challenging to focus on tasks. The body’s fight-or-flight response can lead to increased physical tension and restlessness, which hinders concentration. If difficulty concentrating persists and impacts your daily life, it’s advisable to seek support from a healthcare professional.


25 sources
  1. Sympathetic stimulation with norepinephrine may come at a cost
    Source link
  2. Cognitive function following a major depressive episode: a systematic review and meta-analysis
    Source link
  3. Paying attention to attention in depression
    Source link
  4. Stress and cognition
    Source link
  5. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance
    Source link
  6. Effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical performance in university students
    Source link
  7. Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Cognitive Performance of Nurses Working in Shift
    Source link
  8. Impact of adolescent sucrose access on cognitive control, recognition memory, and parvalbumin immunoreactivity
    Source link
  9. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky and harmful
    Source link
  10. Effects of Dehydration and Rehydration on Cognitive Performance and Mood among Male College Students in Cangzhou, China: A Self-Controlled Trial
    Source link
  11. Migraine: An Underestimated Neurological Condition Affecting Billions
    Source link
  12. Fibrofog and fibromyalgia: a narrative review and implications for clinical practice
    Source link
  13. Cognitive Dysfunction and Diabetes Mellitus
    Source link
  14. Psychiatric and cognitive manifestations of hypothyroidism
    Source link
  15. Menopause and cognitive impairment: A narrative review of current knowledge
    Source link
  16. Cognitive side effects of medications
    Source link
  17. The Impact of Age on Cognition
    Source link
  18. How aging affects focus
    Source link
  19. Smartphones and Cognition: A Review of Research Exploring the Links between Mobile Technology Habits and Cognitive Functioning
    Source link
  20. Boredom proneness as a predictor of depression, anxiety and stress: The moderating effects of dispositional mindfulness
    Source link
  21. Mindfulness Training Improves Cognition and Strengthens Intrinsic Connectivity Between the Hippocampus and Posteromedial Cortex in Healthy Older Adults
    Source link
  22. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function
    Source link
  23. Physical Activity and Brain Health
    Source link
  24. Role of Physical Activity on Mental Health and Well-Being: A Review
    Source link
  25. Zeigarnik Effect
    Source link
Show more
Written by:

Wafaa Amjad Dar


Dr. Bradley Noon



Prioritize your mental well-being

Consult a healthcare professional online and receive a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Recommended Articles

Join our newsletter

Sign up to receive mental health news and tips delivered right in your inbox every month.


Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.